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Keeping employees engaged through the second wave of Covid-19

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It has been more than a year of Work-from-Home (WFH) for many of us. Yet the idea isn’t something that most corporate employees are getting better at. Rather, the extended periods of isolation and lockdowns have been taking a greater toll on physical and mental health.

Right now, more than before, keeping employees engaged is paramount. Companies must do more to keep their people supported and safe through the deadlier second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Engagement redefined

In 2020, companies had promptly switched on to crisis mode to maintain business continuity and to guide employees through the so-called ‘new normal’.

The sudden-ness of the second wave cut short the gradual resumption of what was seen as a return to our usual ways of working and living.

WFH continues to be a disorienting experience for many who are accustomed to being around their colleagues. The much-needed downtime in the form of tea/coffee breaks and the proverbial watercooler chats that actually helped improve productivity are gone, once again. The social isolation and the blurry lines between workplace and home are back, affecting employees’ wellbeing and their capacity to be engaged with work.

What’s worse now is that the fear of Covid-19 is more real and the grief more intense as almost everyone has either lost a family member, a colleague, a friend or someone they knew. The lockdowns are intensifying those fears and unpleasant thoughts with each passing day.

Right now, in mid-2021, one thing is clear – engagement is still going to be key, except in new, more relevant ways. Doing this in the middle of a deadlier second wave of the pandemic, while grappling with a less certain future that doesn’t seem to offer any helpful answers just as yet, will be a whole lot harder.

Many companies have risen to the occasion – from providing generous paid sick leave options, medical helplines and emergency assistance services to organising free testing and vaccination for employees and offering financial aid and support to their affected families.

Here’s what you can do to keep the engines of your business operations running with better engaged employees even through these tremendously testing times:

Connect and stay in touch:

Remote working is here to stay, and we know that. But having nearly your entire office workforce operating like this will be challenging from a communications and interaction point of view.

Step up on the personal touch. Use the digital and social platforms you already have to connect and interact with your people beyond work and work-related issues. Show them you care by regularly reaching out to them – through newsletters, phone calls and zoom calls to check in on employees’ health and wellbeing, hosting sessions where everyone can let their hair down, or even virtual thank you notes and messages. Make every opportunity count.

Adjust your expectations:

The pandemic has been termed as a great leveller, and in some ways that is true. But keep in mind that not everyone going through this shift has a strong or even adequate coping mechanism, and some may be more affected than others.

This is the time to live your company’s values and show compassion. Treat your employees as the unique individuals they really are. Reach out to each person, as much as possible, to understand their fears, concerns and anxieties through this phase. Help them cope with their situation – it could be the difficulty of bringing up a child or caregiving for an ailing parent or even managing their own physical and mental health – by offering greater flexibility to work around their personal commitments and challenges at home.

Be generous with your R&R:

Thinking rewards and recognition in these times might seem like a stretch, right? Yes and no. While it should be amply clear that the conventional motivation tools need to be set aside for a while, everyday acts of appreciation can still be your best bet to make employees feel valued during the pandemic. For this, taking your existing R&R interventions digital is the first step. From basic ‘thank you’ notes, letters of appreciation and emails to acknowledging someone’s hard work and contribution in an online meeting, these little things can go a long way in keeping the morale of your remotely distributed teams up.

But more importantly, you will need to revisit the basic premise of your R&R programmes in light of the new realities. What is more likely to motivate your people now? While monetary rewards may not be as feasible as they were before the onset of the pandemic, these could be better utilised for, say, improving healthcare support or adding new healthcare benefits. By paying for and connecting them with new digital healthcare platforms, resources and other Covid-support services, employers can send a powerful message that they value their employees and their wellbeing.

Invest in training:

With economies tanking and companies juggling salary cuts and layoffs, new learning and development (L&D) investments are hardly on any company’s radar. Yet, you would be doing great injustice to your employer brand by skimping on training investments right now.

However difficult it may seem, try and make room for your employees’ knowledge and skill upgradation. Professional courses and training programmes have moved online like everything else. Employees can benefit from new and upgraded skills, and so can you as a business when things improve.

Covid-19 is already proving to be the biggest test of companies’ culture and how well they engage with employees through one of mankind’s worst disasters. Right now, is when employees are the most unsure about their own purpose and goals and how these connect with their company’s values.

The second wave of the pandemic has turned our lives upside down. This isn’t a time for business as usual. Employees are battling the disease inside their homes and among their loved ones. This is a time for businesses to go the extra mile, and adapt their engagement strategies to the here and now.

Reaching out and extending a helping hand is the least employers can do to stand with their most precious resource, through what could be the most terrible time in their lives. There can be no better engagement mantra than this, for now.

If you are looking for an effective internal communication strategy too, get in touch with us.

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